THE signs are up. Daithí Ó’Sé is getting excited all over again on the radio ads. The sun is still shining and in this part of the world at least, the summer is not yet over.
Because of course, in Limerick and in West Limerick in particular, the summer is never over until the Listowel Races are run. And now it’s just days away from the Listowel Harvest Festival which kicks off this Sunday and runs for the full week.
Seven days of serious racing, serious fun and sensational fashion. What’s not to like?
Listowel is this year celebrating 156 years of racing, over a century and a half in which myths and memories, tall stories and the dramatic escapes have grown and grown mellow.
And still they come, new generation after old, to salute a tradtion that seems as solid as the Rock of Cashel. It’s always hard to pin down what exactly is the mix that makes Listowel great. It’s the track itself, only a long puck from the Square. It’s the equal mix of racing and entertainment, with races by day and music, singing and dancing by night. It’s the people you meet, the ones you know for years and the ones you don’t know. It’s the Kerry air and the exuberance of a last shot before the winter sets in.
Listowel is all of this, and more and, for a great many people, it spells pure magic.
A lot of that magic, says Brenda Daly, secretary of the Listowel Race Company, is down to tradition. “We are on the go a long time. We have people coming back year after year after year,” she told the Limerick Leader. People now in their 80s and 90s will come into the office and recall their first trip to Listowel at the age of four.
This year, hopes are high for a bumper festival. With 53 races over seven days, and prize money of over €1m, and the hope of good weather, the expectation is that numbers will exceed the 87,996 people who came through the stiles last year.
Watering of the course started this Wednesday following the long spell of dry weather. Among the week’s highlights are the Guinness Kerry National Handicap Steeplechase (Grade A) Chase next Wednesday, the €40k Guinness Handicap Hurdle on Thursday and the Listowel Races Supporters Club Sponsored Race ‘The Slan Abhaile” on Saturday, September 20.
This year there will be three Best Dressed Competition. Next Thursday, the judges will be looking for the sharpest dressed man while Friday’s Best Dressed Lady is certain to attract large numbers. On Saturday, the An Taisce competition for best upcycled, recycled or genuine vintage outfit takes place.